Science is a story. Think about it: It has heroes and villains; noble quests to discover great riches; triumphs and devastating defeats. Each hero surges forward, bolstered by those who came before them. Each victory brings untold riches upon them. Except the quest is for knowledge, and riches are shared with the entire world, for the betterment of humanity. Science is the greatest story still being told today.
But one does not simply walk into Oslo.
To read Part 1 of this series, click here: REvolutionary Theory.
Son of a bitch. It was a warm Thursday evening, and I just got taco drippings on my sleeve. I was eating at Oaxaca Taqueria across from the Brooklyn Lyceum, where I was killing time before a show. It was my fault, my lust for delicious carnitas overcame my common-you’re-wearing-a-fucking-white-suit sense. But this isn’t a food review.
I was about to attend the one-year anniversary of The Story Collider, a New York City storytelling event that explores the connection we all have with science. It was my first show, and I was both shocked and ashamed that I hadn’t heard about it before now. I have a metaphor for this. See, I live under a goddamn rock. I can lift the rock up a little bit and get a sliver of a view of the world. Unfortunately, that view is often blocked by lolcats, video games, and a rabbit with a stack of pancakes on his head. But I digress.
I was walking over to a nearby bodega to clean the taco grease off my sleeve when I bumped into none other than writer, blogger, famous to at least 15 people, always charming John Rennie. He was there as a speaker, so we caught up briefly before getting back to our various missions. He to tell a wonderful story about an encounter with a raging lab rat, and I to wipe chorizo juice off my sleeve.
The June 23rd Story Collider was titled “Reinvention” and the stories were all based around a turning point in life where everything changes, for better or for worse (Usually worse, then better). As this was the anniversary show, organizers Ben Lillie and Brian Wecht (both particle physicists) gathered up a top-notch cast of storytellers to celebrate. In addition to John Rennie, the lineup included scientist Nancy Parmalee, writer Jen Lee, designer and Moth veteran Ed Gavagan, and skeptical musician, podcaster, and friend of Sci-ənce George Hrab. I was pumped.
(Aside: If you’ve never been to the Brooklyn Lyceum, I highly recommend swinging by. On the outside, it looks like a gigantic condemned bathroom. This is due to two doors that say “Men” and “Women” above them. But like the Tardis, the Lyceum is pretty roomy on the inside, very different from a condemned bathroom.)
After some mingling time, we all took our seats and the storytelling began. I was excited for this show not only because of the lineup, but because I consider myself to be a storyteller of sorts, and myself had a bit of a reinvention with the creation of this website and my subsequent decision to write more and get involved in the skeptic movement. Hell, my portfolio is called The Bard, not after Shakespeare specifically, but after the travelling storytellers of olde. Through comics, paintings, and writing, I sought to tell stories to anybody who would listen. But what I quickly realized was that I had it easy. I just got off my ass, got a haircut and jumped in feet first.
Here in front of me were people who had to face the depths of their own self doubt, or hit rock bottom in a telemarketing call center. These were people who cried, bled, and were bitten by rats to become who they are now. I was merely starting the path they had all worked so hard to be on now. I felt moved to be in the company of these brave souls, who are living their dreams and proudly telling the world about their struggle to get there.
I mentioned earlier that these were stories of peoples’ relationship with science, but none of it was that blunt in execution. These were stories of reinvention through science. But science was there merely as a guiding force, or a passion that they had, because that’s how it is in life. One does not visit a lab and enter a machine that turns you 180 degrees and then you walk out a new person (as fun as that would be). It’s beautiful that way because no matter what your political or religious views are, science plays a part in your life. It’s easy to forget that though.
Nadir touched upon this on Wednesday, that for all people like to scoff at science or dismiss evolution, they forget how much they actually follow the concepts or depend upon its methods. During a break, Ben Lillie reached out to the audience to remember this connection. He emphasized that if you want people to realize that the climate is changing or that life evolves slowly over time, you have to show them that “science is important and meaningful.”
I came away from the Story Collider with a greater appreciation for what we all go through in life, and the crazy things we do in the name of science. Ben and Brian said that in the beginning they were worried that they wouldn’t have enough material, but when you’re dealing with the greatest story still being told today, you will never run out of stories to tell. I think they’ll be fine.
If you’re interested in sharing your tale, you can contact them and producer Erin Barker who added, “If you’ve experienced science, we’d love to have you.” I certainly hope to see you there.
Congratulations to Ben, Brian, and Erin on one year of greatness. May there be many more.
In case you were wondering about the weird comics for this series, here is the combined product: